Triple Stories, Triple-Duty Set Design
Triple plotlines with multiple locations made for a shoot as complex as the
script. With a very short preparation period and a window of opportunity between
October 2012 and the end of January 2013, driven by cast availability, the
production was organized to shoot almost completely in Italy. Sets were built at
the legendary Cinecitta Studios, and a host of Rome locations were used to
double for the other cities of New York and Paris, although the company did
shoot briefly in both iconic cities.
Paul Haggis and his production designer Laurence Bennett have enjoyed a
collaborative creative relationship spanning more than fifteen years. "THIRD
PERSON is our fourth picture, plus we've done a couple of TV series and had a
lot of adventures together," recalls Bennett. "Paul sent me the first draft of
the script just under two years ago, and this has been a project long gestating
with Paul. We were in Chicago doing a commercial together in April 2012 when we
looked at the latest draft of the schedule, and a month later I was in Rome
prepping THIRD PERSON."
Those years of professional collaboration created a kind of shorthand when it
comes to communication and discussion about any given project. As Bennett
explains, "Conceptually, our discussions tend to be oblique references to
literature, films, art, photographs, and music, and they can be pretty obscure.
For THIRD PERSON, we both referenced Antonioni's Blow Up, and that was probably
the cleanest, most succinct touchstone for how to approach this picture. Looking
at Blow Up again for the first time in 25 years, it stills feels really fresh
and really solid work. So, given some of our filmic antecedents, I'd say Rome
was a really great place to be shooting THIRD PERSON."
With that benchmark visual look to achieve-sleekly, subtly elegant-the
production posed stylistic quandaries in the face of time and budget
constraints. As Bennett recollects, "Given the tripartite nature of the story,
the fragmented way in which it's told, the fact that it deals with divided self
and questions about identity and creative identity, that demands a real clarity
in the way each of them is approached individually and the piece is approached
as a whole. Working on a pretty limited budget and shooting New York, Paris and
Rome, all in Italy, there had to be some obvious logistical and stylistic
challenges. Finding a way to portray each of those places and stories that take
place in them clearly and distinctly from one another has been the greatest
"At Cinecitta we built a handful of sets," he continues, "The major ones
being the Saint Jacques Hotel in Paris and the Mercer Hotel in New York. It's
important within the storytelling process to have little reflections back and
forth between each of the strands, so, within the structure of the hotel that's
one obvious place where we need to have these resonances. Structurally and in
terms of layout, the two hotels are the same, but stylistically they are
Other set builds at Cinecitta included the Roma camp where Monika lives,
which was created on the backlot, as well as Scott's hotel room in Taranto and
Julia's apartment in New York. As CinecittÃ is also home to the big New York set
of Scorsese's Gangs of New York and Broadway itself, Bennett and the team did a
major revamp of that for some contemporary exterior New York scenes.
Visually, one of the important contrasts was Monika and Scott's trip to
Taranto in the south of Italy. "For that portion of the story," Bennett
explains, "It's incredibly enriched by the big shift in the quality of light.
The nature of each city is so completely different. Taranto is a beautiful place
and it brings the story some great rich visuals."
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